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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




ਤਹਾਂ ਜੌ ਮਾਇਆ ਬਿਆਪੈ, ਕਹਾਂ ਠਹਿਰਾਈਐ?
 (Where to get refuge if maya ensnares you even there (in a Gurdwara)?)

Prabhjot Kaur

With the formation of separate Haryana Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Gurudwara legislation and the question how the religious institutions of Sikhs community should be ideally managed, has become a hot topic of discussion. The issue of separate management committee has divided the community vertically. While some are of the opinion that there is no harm if a separate committee to manage the gurudwaras in Haryana is formed; there are others with an equally strong opinion that a separate committee will weaken the Sikh community and that in no case a separate committee should be allowed to be formed. All this debate has once again brought to the fore the issue of Gurdwara legislation, which has been a subject of debate since its inception.

All India Gurudwara act was one of the main demands of Akali Dal during the movement started in 1982. It formed one of the major clauses in the agreement made between Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Longowal with a promise that very soon All India Gurdwara Act will be passed. But more than thirty years later, instead of having an All India Act, the community is faced with the bifurcation of the existing institution entrusted with the management of the Gurdwaras.

While the question whether to have a separate committee for managing the Gurdwaras in Haryana is debatable; what is undisputable is the question whether any religious community should be governed by any legislative act passed by the government of the day? Should it not be considered a direct interference by the government in the affairs of any community? I don’t think that there is any other community in the world that allows its shrines to be managed under the legislative law enacted by the rulers of the country. Why Sikhs alone chose to have a legislation to manage their shrines under a law? What are the hurdles in managing their places of worship as per the principles enshrined in their scripture without any interference from any side? No other community has the system of elected representatives elected through the universal adult franchise of the adult members of the community to manage its shrines. Can the state of affairs undergo a change for the better if a person contesting SGPC election is banned from contesting election to Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha or for that matter any other political post?  All these questions are weighing heavily on the minds of the think tank of the community. Can we think of some better system of selecting the people for managing the shrines? We need to ponder over the question.

At this juncture the AOSS editorial team thought it fit to bring before the readers the circumstances that led to the formation of Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the enactment of the Gurdwara legislation by the British government and the problems being faced by the community because of the Gurdwara management being bound by the law and the prevailing system of elections which certainly is detrimental to the interests of the community in running their affairs, as the elections are being contested by the political parties on political symbols.

We have endeavored to give an over view of literature about the concept of Gurdwara, its central place in the Sikh way of life, how the Sikhs have made countless sacrifices to maintain the sanctity of their places of worship and their deep reverence for all those who made all these sacrifices as a result of which the control of Gurdwaras came in their hands by way of enactment of Gurdwara legislation. Unfortunately, the present system is also not to the satisfaction of the community as it is rife with many drawbacks which many farsighted Sikhs and the officials of the British government could see even at the time of the enactment of the law. The long term consequences of the election system in Gurdwara management were predicted by Mr. Malcolm Hailey, the then Lt. Governor of Punjab, whom Dr. Ganda Singh quotes as saying, “Why delay the bill and let the Government get the blame? Give the bill to them and also their Gurdwaras. They will then quarrel among themselves. The Government will be free to do something else.” Sadly, the prediction made by Mr. Hailey appears to be coming true.

Master Tara Singh when moving the resolution that the Gurdwara Bill be passed said, “I know, Sir, that many responsible persons of the reforming party are feeling that the Bill as it stands has its own imperfections, but in spite of that ………… they are prepared to lend support to any legislation which meets most of their fundamental requirements.” He is also Known to have remarked, “a compromise has been made, out of deference to the hesitating official mind.” Mr. Hailey the Lt. Governor of Punjab at the time of the enactment of the Gurdwara bill implored the Sikhs not to magnify its defects and to accept that it was a substantial measure which conceded most of their demands.” Mr. H. D. Craik (Chief Secretary) said that the legislative principle for the places of worship of any religion to be declared the property of the adherents of that religion; and for the ministers of those temples to be deemed the trustees not the owners- were measures of great importance for all concerned. He suggested that despite any shortcomings in the legislation, the fact that it existed was of greater benefit.

However, the bill met short term objectives and at least theoretically the bill had the potential for the much needed reform. As Dr Kashmir Singh says, the most fundamental principle of the act that the Sikh Gurdwaras or shrines were the heritage of Sikh Panth and would be controlled and managed by themselves through an elected body to be constituted by law was the main achievement of the whole movement. Earlier the contention of the government was that there were other parties like Mahants whose interests were closely connected with the Sikhs and any settlement was needed to be acceptable to all such parties. The acceptance of the government to this right of the Sikhs was in itself an achievement, though there are others who believe that enactment of laws to regulate the management of the shrines of any religion in itself is a negation of the principle of the freedom to practice of the religion and the management of the shrines according to the principles of that particular religion. No law made by any government can meet the aspiration of any community with respect to the congregational practices of the devotees.

In this issue AOSS, an effort has been made to bring before the reader the circumstances that led to the formation of Gurdwara legislation and what the leaders of the community thought and did, at various stages of its checkered history, to manage their shrines according to the principles enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib. Can something be done now to get out of the murky situation in which the Sikh community finds itself.

Bhai Gurdas, the first Sikh Scholar, spelt the need to have a clean Gurdwara administration. He argues in one of the Kabits composed by him that a community is rendered homeless if its religious places are plagued with corruption. He says:

ਬਾਹਰ ਕੀ ਅਗਨਿ ਬੁਝਤ ਜਲ ਸਰਿਤਾ ਕੈ, 
ਨਾਉ ਮੈ ਜੋ ਆਗ ਲਾਗੈ ਕੈਸੇ ਕੇ ਬੁਝਾਈਐ ?
ਬਾਹਰ ਸੇ ਭਾਗ ਓਟ ਲੀਜਅਤ ਕੋਟ ਗੜ੍ਹ, 
ਗੜ੍ਹ ਮੇਂ ਜੋ ਲੂਟ ਲੀਜੈ, ਕਹੁ ਕਤ ਜਾਈਐ ?
ਚੋਰਨ ਕੇ ਤ੍ਰਾਸ, ਜਾਇ ਸ਼ਰਨ ਗਹੇ ਨਰਿੰਦ, 
ਮਾਰੇ ਮਹੀਪਤਿ ਜੀਉ ਕੈਸੇ ਕੈ ਬਚਾਈਐ ?
ਮਾਯਾ ਡਰ ਡਰਪਤ, ਹਾਰ ਗੁਰਦੁਆਰੇ ਜਾਵੈ, 
ਤਹਾਂ ਜੋ ਮਾਯਾ ਬਿਆਪੇ, ਕਹਾਂ ਠਹਿਰਾਈਐ?(ਕਬਿੱਤ 544)

       An external conflagration may be doused with a water cannon,
       How can one douse the fire in the inside of a boat?
       Escaping the brigands one may seek shelter in a fort,
       Where else should one go if robbed off inside the fort?
       Being scared of thieves one may seek protection with a king,
       How should one protect oneself if the protector turns a killer?
       Being harassed by material entanglements, One finds a solace in a Gurdwara,
       Where should one find peace if mercenary concerns prevail there as well?

What a pitiable condition! At another place, Bhai Gurdas warns the Sikhs of the Guru against eyeing the offerings in a place of worship. He says that if a man steeped in the greed of material things takes up the duties of a Gurdwara with an eye on the offerings, he is practically devouring poison coated with sugar:

    ਧਰਮਸਾਲ ਦੀ ਝਾਕ ਹੈ ਵਿਹੁ ਖੰਡੁ ਪਾਜੁ॥(ਵਾਰ ੩੫) 

The community has to think of the ways to make its religious places free from all corruption and malpractice, if it wants to bring back its days of glory. Gurdwaras and the holy congregation should offer a glimpse of the Sikh way of life:

   ਗੁਰਸਿਖੀ ਦਾ ਦੇਖਣਾ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਗੁਰਦੁਆਰਾ॥ (ਵਾਰ ੨੮)

It is not possible to find the models of Sikh way of life if Gurdwaras are governed by the rules made for ordinary organizations. The Gurdwara management should reflect the Sikh way of life as per the principles enshrined in the Sikh scripture and for that it is mandatory to have good Gursikhs as managers of the Gurdwaras.

The present issue of Abstracts of Sikh Studies contains edited and abridged version of articles written from time to time by the renowned scholars, on Gurdwara legislation, its various aspects to make these articles fairly intellegible to the general readers. These articles arranged in the chronological order provide a broad survey of the entire course of Sikh Gurdwara management from its most rudimentary beginning to its latest and present electro-legislative design that we have and the majority landmarks of this long arduous journey.

Beginning with Bhai Kahn Singh’s definition of Gurdwara and its brief history, Principal Teja Singh’s article deals with the genesis of the Gurdwara Movement.  Prof Ruchi Ram’s article provides an eyewitness account of the devotion and commitment of the pioneers who not only set up the rudimentary foundation of the first Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee but also managed to sustain the ongoing movement for Gurdwara Reforms with the minimum means and superb indigenous, rustic intelligence and appropriate vernacular media coverage.  While Dr Sangat Singh’s article provides a glimpse into circumstances and dramatic happenings which led to the formation of a representative Gurdwara Committee as early as 1914 in Delhi and provided a prototype for the first elected body of the Sikhs to manage Gurdwaras, Dr Kharak Singh’s first articles gives a gist of the salient features of the Sikh Gurdwara management Act 1925. This article along with Dr Kashmir Singh’s highly analytical essay presents a comprehensive critique of this Act which has been governing the whole gamut of Gurdwara Management since 1925 to present times.  The increasing influx of political parties and politicians into the Gurdwara Management based on the legislative and electoral basis, especially after independence and simultaneous partition of Punjab in 1947 and the subsequent years has been brought about in minute details in a longer article by Principal S S Gandhi. Politicization of Gurdwara Management was inbuilt in the model that Sikhs chose for themselves while dispensing with the autocratic, hereditary priestly class.  The drafting of the All India Gurdwara Management Act, discussions, dialogue, scrutiny, suggested amendments both by the then head of SGPC, some representative Sikh sects have been dealt with in the operative part of the inaugural address given by Justice Harbans Singh during a highly well attended Seminar held at Institute of Sikh Studies in October 1997. We have included in this issue the summarized version of this Act with all its major stipulations and its early demise in the second article written by Dr Kharak Singh.  A brief on the spot critique of this Act given by Dr R S Sandhu follows this article.  Prof Kulwant Singh’s article provides a futuristic perspective about Gurdwara management and invites the readers to suggest remedial measures and alternatives to the present politically dominated electoral system and appeals for the adoption of a less electorate based but more representative model based more on faith, Sikh religious commitment and personal integrity then on political expediency and opportunism.

Since the Sikh community once again finds itself at the cross roads, it urgently needs to evolve a new system to manage their places of worship which is in keeping with the lofty principles enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. Where will the Sikhs find refuge if the Gurdwaras which form the nucleus of their community living are plagued with all sorts of malpractices:

 ਮਾਯਾ ਡਰ ਡਰਪਤ ਹਾਰ ਗੁਰਦਵਾਰੇ ਜਾਵੈ, ਤਹਾਂ ਜੌ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਹਾਂ ਠਹਿਰਾਈਐ? (ਭਾਈ ਗੁਰਦਾਸ-ਕਬਿਤ ੫੪੪)

A person afraid of the snares of maya, goes to the Gurdwara in order to take refuge with the Guru, but if the maya over powers him there as well, where will such a man find refuge? (Kabit 544) Perhaps, nowhere.


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